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Threat of nuclear theft high, group says

Despite progress on security, tons of nuclear material is “dangerously vulnerable” to theft by terrorists across the globe, a private group contends.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Despite progress on security, tons of nuclear material is “dangerously vulnerable” to theft by terrorists across the globe, a private group contends.

World leaders have failed to provide money promised for or pay strict attention to securing materials that could be used for a nuclear device or “dirty” bomb, the Nuclear Threat Initiative said Thursday.

As leaders of the Group of Eight industrial powers, including President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, meet this weekend, reports from the group note that a fraction of the $20 billion those leaders pledged four years ago to secure nuclear materials worldwide has been spent.

“This threat is not being treated as an urgent, front-burner security threat by the United States, by Russia or by the world,” said former Sen. Sam Nunn, co-chairman of the group that focuses on nuclear nonproliferation.

The organization commissioned the two reports to assess the G-8’s response to safeguarding nuclear materials. One was by the Managing the Atom Project at Harvard University; the other came from researchers at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Harvard report cited progress in securing the material in Russia. But security upgrades are not completed at nearly half of the sites and “only modest progress” has been made in consolidating the materials, the report said.

“In the rest of the world there is even less good news,” the report said. “At many sites around the world weapons-usable nuclear material remains dangerously vulnerable to either outsider or insider theft.”

The United States has worked to improve security globally, but outside the former Soviet Union, “U.S.-sponsored security upgrades have barely begun or are not yet even on the agenda,” the report said.

“There are still major gaps in our efforts to keep the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons out of terrorists’ hands,” said Matthew Bunn, co-author of the Harvard study.

Nuclear material that could be used to make a nuclear device or dirty bomb can be found in more than 40 countries, the researchers said.

At their 2002 summit, G-8 leaders committed to spend $20 billion over a decade to secure weapons of mass destruction. But that effort, the researchers said, appears to have lost steam even as the risk of terrorists’ obtaining the material “has only grown more acute.”

Despite pledges of $17.5 billion, most came in the first year and, nearly halfway into the 10-year program, only $3.5 billion has been spent, said Robert Einhorn, co-author of the CSIS report and a former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.